Comment Etiquette

I am surprised and a little impressed, but not happy, about the lengths some people will go to to promote their views in our comments. I’ve noticed two disturbing bits of behavior recently. One is “replying” to the first comment on a long comment stream in order to boost your own comment up to the top of the page, when you are not responding to that first comment substantively. The second is posting comments under multiple identities in order to agree with yourself or, worse, to insult or attack other commenters. On one recent post, one person posted eight comments under five different names, only two of which were substantive.

There are various measures I could take to try to solve this problem, but all of them will create overhead for the community as a whole. So please stop.

24 thoughts on “Comment Etiquette

  1. James,

    Thanks very much for cultivating such a civilized comments section.

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record: please consider using your real name in the comments. It will help foster a polite and intelligent debate.


  2. Yes, handling comments is a problem. :)

    First, I would suggest disallowing anonymous comments. Seems like allowing anonymity should be a good thing, but in practice this is almost always abused.

    Second, you are going to have to lightly censor comments. Hopefully censorship makes you uneasy (as it should any good American), but … in this context it is needed. You are going to have a small proportion of very insistent and not very useful responders. A small number of folk will waste the time of a large number of readers. This is unfortunate, but common.

    Good luck finding a stress-free optimum. :)

  3. The use of multiple identities has a technological remedy, but I suppose that you are using already packaged software for the blog.

    One response to that which would not create excessive overhead is a sunshine remedy: if you know that the same person is making comments to the same post under different identities, reveal the fact that those identities are the same person.

  4. Come on man!

    you should let the commenters self-regulate. What’s with all this interventionism? Is it a French website?

  5. I agree that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Expose the sock puppets.

    I let myself get dragged into a back-and-forth with about six copies of the same guy a couple of posts ago. That will not happen again.

  6. Some level of moderation is always necessary. It has nothing to do with “freedom” or “censorship”; if people want to make comments, they are welcome to get their own blogs. Moderation doesn’t have to take a lot of time; as soon as people realize that there is a high bar for comments, they’ll stop posting garbage, and the quality of comments will go up while your work will go down.

  7. Yes, those of us who are here for thoughtful conversation and debate will appreciate some moderation–things can degenerate quickly and make the comment section worthless–whereas now it really is developing into an integral and valuable part of the blog.

    The sunshine strategy is a good one for a number of different reasons.

  8. Sympathies. BTW, “posting comments under multiple identities in order to agree with yourself or, worse, to insult or attack other commenters” is known as sock-puppeting.

    An unmoderated web comments system is sort of like a little door into hell, more’s the pity.

  9. Oh, James. You are new to this part of the internet, the blogosphere, aren’t you? Trolling, concern trolling, sock puppetry, and all kinds of comment hi-jinks are par for the course.

    Just ask a feminist blogger–ANY feminist blogger and she’ll tell you ALL about it, right up to the latest rape/death threats in the massive file she keeps of such things. Shoot, we have Best Troll competitions!

  10. Responses to postings are helpful to the extent they are intelligent/informed and provide perspective.
    Polluting this section may be unavoidable as not everybody’s comments are based on the same background, experience or motives. However, during a time of global economic crisis when an informed public is essential, there is good reason to take steps to prevent egregious violations of postings.

  11. Asking them to stop is more than a bit naive. You may find this post on the difference between flamers and trolls illuminating: Note especially the paragraph on civil discourse. Of course that doesn’t address other issues that Christina and others have mentioned like sock puppets, but it’s a good starting place. Caveat: the last paragraph is dealing more with a site like PerlMonks and doesn’t apply as well to blogs this site.

  12. I signed on to learn more about the economy – and I’m getting that – and more!

    Thanks for education about the sock puppets! Trolls, I’m familiar with – but sock puppets is a new term to me! I never realized people create cyber-Sybils in an attempt to win an argument.

  13. That’s really pathetic when you’re so desperate for attention or validation that you have to “simulate” it. Whatever the motivation it’s unethical and disgusting.

    Of course since there’s real money involved and James and Simon have been having an impact, I wonder how much of this is also “astroturf” – where industry people are trying to skew the conversation.

    That sort of behavior is also unethical and leaves one wondering if there really is hope for this world…

  14. I will never understand the appeal of Atlas Shrugged. I equate it to See Spot Run for capitalists.

    You may be confused, this is a private blog. The internet is the public space, people can go there and say whatever they like.

  15. Considering the front page of the site shows a cartoon of a woman carrying a large gun, perhaps the owner should put herself in the “massive file.”

  16. This is quite incredible, I never thought someone would bother to go to such lengths. Of course, it is a compliment to James and Simon, but, then I think you will have to regulate this James. There is no other way. If you don’t solve it now, it will become a problem that’s too big to solve ;)

  17. Good extended discussion of moderation here, by noted professional editor & blogger Teresa Nielsen Hayden. (Sorry for repeating it, James, but it seems that some of the readers here haven’t seen it and I think it’s worth the link.)

  18. Manshu, a lot of these people have no lives and lots of time. Some have psychological disabilities that lead to poor on-line conduct. A few of them are criminals and somewhat more are wannabe criminals. To slightly misquote tnh, if you spend long enough in unmoderated forums, it’s like living in Sunnydale; after a while you see one of everything, and your reaction changes to “bored now.”

    Anyhow, I really need to go read about psychophysics and sampling.

  19. I will repeat Badtux’s Law of Economics Blogging: Any economics blog with a comments section which becomes sufficiently popular will attract a sizable troll population of gold bugs and conspiracy theorists until the value of its comments section shall approach nil. The reason being that these people have no solid scientific or mathematical foundation to their economic theories and thus will, in their attempts to “prove” that the cause of all of today’s problems are because of lack of the gold standard, a conspiracy of Jewish Bankers, or whatever, invariably resort to sock puppetry, abusive comments, and just in general drown out sound economic thought with their odd theories via sheer volume under the theory of “if we can’t prove it with numbers we’ll prove it with volume!” Then, frustrated by the difficulties finding thoughtful carefully considered comments underneath the piles of reeking cow patties, the majority of thoughtful commentators go elsewhere. It’s Gresham’s Law applied to blogging — bad commentators drive out the good ones.

    The only solution I’ve found is to avoid having a popular economics blog :-). Sad to say, that doesn’t solve your own problem, alas. As for moderation, for popular economics blogs there’s just too much comments volume for meaningful moderation. As for the notion of forcing people to comment under their real names, nobody knows who anybody is on the Internet. I can tell you that my name is Spartacus Jones, and there’s no way you can prove that’s not my name. I.e., not useful. So I’m stumped, other than to say that maybe if you’re boring enough for long enough, the trolls and gold bugs and conspiracy theorists will get bored and go elsewhere. It’s the only thing that’s ever worked for me, anyhow (sigh!).

  20. James Kwak, just wanted to let you know I am a bit busy these few days.

    Please check back, I’ll try to write something soon!

  21. Hi James Kwak,

    I am not sure if you noticed this, but in some of the recent posts, a narrow-minded simpleton badgered me on a few of occasions. I could have use the same low-rent attack to get even but that just doesn’t suit me. It was a minor issue and I’ve simply and efficiently addressed it. I am particularly pleased with inventing a woman character to do the heavy slapping! Guys like this simpleton usually don’t know how to interact with women!

    At any rate, I definitely do not blame you for not noticing this conflict. I also admit on a very few occasions I too have harassed another without provocation. It is a character flaw. I enjoy making fun of simpletons with strong convictions. I’ll try to control myself.

    There will always be conflict. If you do react to these conflicts it is very important that you appear fair. Unfortunately to keep up the appearance of fairness to all people is an impossible task. There is no way you can keep up with all the interactions. Since you are not inclined to upgrade the software of baselinescenario so that the community can self police, I have the following suggestion. You should let some of the minor conflicts muddle through. Let the minor issues sorts themselves out. Hahah, muddle through like the trouble banks! This will be fine for a small community. But beyond certain user base, you’ll need better software.

    Overall, I completely disagree with you that the use of alias is wrong. I won’t argue why since you probably don’t really want to debate this. By the way, I hope you enjoyed my previous reply to you regarding posting response to the first message. At least I hope you had a chuckle! I won’t promise not to use multiple aliases again but I usually don’t use multiple aliases.

  22. James,

    Maybe there are incentives for certain individuals to take advantage of the comment system as it currently stands. What’s the right balance between control and free-reign? Do you really think just “asking them to stop” will work?

    There are some sophisticated comment rating algorithms and crowd-sourcing tools out there – many that you can install as ready-made wordpress plugins. See:

  23. An advantage to an alias is that it allows insiders to share their thinking. e.g there are a few who comment here who have that supreme certainty in their own wisdom that one usually associates with a successful academic and or politician. Perhaps we have deep throat trying to make us understand why the policies he is recommending to Obama are sound?

    It would be good if the software could list the multiple personalities of any schizophrenics we have with us.

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